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Take Action Against Slavery

Anton Foek's firsthand report from the Sudan ("Sudan's Tragic Legacy of Civil War," September/October 1998) was an informative account of a human rights outrage generally ignored by mainstream media. His vivid description of the abduction and subsequent enslavement of tens of thousands of black Africans was particularly impressive. My only concern is that Foek's article includes no mention of the ways in which readers can act to prevent further tragedy.

I am the associate director of the American Anti-Slavery Group (, an organization that has been fighting hard for over five years against modern-day black slavery in the Sudan (as well as Mauritania). We build public awareness about the persistence of slavery through national media, hold seminars on college campuses, help draft congressional resolutions, and even raise funds to purchase the freedom of slaves. (Over 3,000 Sudanese have been emancipated so far.)

Our latest campaign is a petition demanding the freedom of 103 named Sudanese women and children who have been abducted into slavery by government militias. We hope to gather over 100,000 signatures in support of this symbolic emancipation. Several congressional representatives and celebrities have already committed.

The United States tore itself apart over the issue of one person owning another. Because of our own "tragic legacy," we Americans will not sit idly by while blacks continue to be "owned" as property. I would urge your readers to speak up for those silenced by slavery and to learn more about how they can take an active role in eradicating this ancient institution once and for all.

Jesse Sage

Somerville, MA

Equalize ICC Power

"Establishing an International Criminal Court," as advocated by Beth Lamont (November/December 1998), could be an important step toward a better world. But the veto power demanded by the United States would make the court impotent as far as the behavior of the major powers and their allies is concerned.

We have a parallel situation with respect to the United Nations Charter's ban on aggression. Both the United States and the former Soviet Union insist that each of the five permanent Security Council members have a veto power. This veto power enabled the major powers to launch aggressions without penalty. The Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Afghanistan. The CIA managed covert attacks on Cuba, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, and the United States openly invaded Panama and Grenada. When the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. backing of the contra attacks on Nicaragua were violations of the U.N. Charter, the United States simply disregarded the court's ruling.

Those of us who would like to see the rule of law in international conduct should first study the failure of the United Nations Charter and the International Court of Justice to end aggressive warfare.

John Burton

Washington, NJ

The Individual

It seems unlikely that the legal fiction of the uncaused individual, as described in "Materialism and Morality (The Problem with Pinker)" in the November/ December 1998 Humanist, will ever be dropped in favor of recognition that the individual is a product of both nature and nurture. Admitting that nurture has an influence on the individual's decisions, acts, and relationship with society would require our society to:

* acknowledge that the abuses inflicted on children cause injuries far more serious than just visible bruises that go away in a week or so

* accept accountability for establishing the situation in which those injuries were inflicted (that is, establishing laws and customs that make children the legal property of parents and give parents a legal shield of privacy behind which many types of abuse can be inflicted without outside interference or even comment)

* accept accountability and provide remedies for the lifelong effects of those injuries

* make an effort to prevent those kinds of injuries from ever being inflicted on the next generation.

Preventing abuse of the next generation means acknowledging that children are future adults and that, as such, they have an absolute right to be safe from injurious parental actions. That, in turn, would require society to change the laws and customs which make parents the owners of their children and give the children the shield of privacy--obviously a major break with Western tradition.

To spare itself the effort of such change, our society holds itself to a lesser standard of accountability than it applies to the individual. This formal, legal denial of accountability is derived from Henry VIII's precedent of "the king can do no wrong" (which is just another way of saying "might makes right").

The social and legal changes that logically result from assuming a caused individual are so profound that it seems far easier to continue to deny that the individual is influenced by nurture--and pay the price in lost productivity and prison costs--rather than change. It's no wonder that politicians feign ignorance of why certain individuals might wish to escape reality through drugs--or might wish to do unto society as society has done unto them.

Leland M. Helms

Rochester Hills, MI
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Publication:The Humanist
Date:Jan 1, 1999
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